Yesterday Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Justice, wrote an article claiming that prisons were not in crisis and that suicides behind bars were merely unfortunate but, crucially, entirely beyond his control.
On the same day he published a report by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) into Wandsworth prison that was devastating in its criticism of every aspect of the prison linked to staff cuts, that exposed people being unsafe, overcrowding, insanitary conditions and deaths. The IMB is appointed by him to tell him what is happening in prisons. It is the latest in a string of reports that reveal the crisis in prisons.
Mr Grayling claims that education is being increased, but there is uncertainty over education in 12 London prisons as the provider withdrew from the contract after payments were reduced when staff cuts meant that prisoners were not being escorted to classes. Education in prisons holding children has not increased or improved.
Recent reports by HM chief inspector of prisons reveal prisons that are dangerous, dirty and where activity is rare. Wormwood Scrubs, Chelmsford, Isis, Hindley, Doncaster, Preston, Ranby, Birmingham and Gartree are all overcrowded with prisoners lying idle in filthy cells. The only report that had a ray of light was on a small special unit for 50 boys that has more than 70 staff, so no wonder it can cope.Â The other prisons have faced staff cuts of more than one-third.
It is worth taking one prison as an example to show what things are really like. The Wandsworth report illustrates the problems faced by prisons. The prison holds 1,600 adult men despite only being certified to hold 943. Three years ago it had 427 prison officers; by June this year the number had been cut to 260. The prison was built in 1851 and the wings are Victorian.
The IMB says: âStaff reductions have had a detrimental effect across the prison; restricted residential activity, availability of and attendance at work and education, stretched legal services, reduced gym sessions, changed food provision, cancelled outpatient appointments, problems with property, insufficient Mandatory Drug Testing and reduced library attendance.â
The prison has traditionally held only adult men but recently teenagers have been detained there and this has led to a more volatile environment with an increase in the use of force by staff. Staff are not trained to deal with teenagers.
Three men died in the prison in the last year; one hanged himself. There were 536 known cases of men who were suicidal. Violent incidents increased by one-third.
There is a shortage of activity places so 500 prisoners are locked in their cells all day, even if the rest are only allowed to go to activities part time. The Secretary of State claimed that more prisoners were working but the IMB in Wandsworth says: âThe Board takes the view that the Government’s policy to get all prisoners working is not supported by the resources necessary to make this a reality.â
This is one prison but the pattern is repeated across the estate. Six prisoners took their own lives in six days a couple of weeks ago. Greg Revell was only 18 when he was left alone in his cell overnight in Glen Parva and hanged himself in June. Most prisons have less than a handful of staff on duty at night so even if a teenager cries for help there is no one to comfort them. Greg had mental health problems and entered the prison with red welts round his neck where he had attempted suicide. Gregâs mother is grieving for her child.
The Howard League published figures showing the staff cuts and the Ministry of Justice tried to claim that they were untrue, until it had to admit that the statistics were their own. We have up-to-date figures to show that staff cuts have continued.
The closure or re-roling of 18 prisons, cramming those prisoners into already overcrowded jails, sending more people to prison every week and staff cuts have created a perfect storm. There have been few riots because men are locked in their cells most of the time. As one prison officer said to me, caged young men come out fighting. This accounts for increased assaults and suicides.
The Secretary of State should read the reports from his inspectors and the watchdogs he has appointed. Prisons have deteriorated under his management and he is responsible for the outcomes. It is not a question of party politics and it is cheap to pretend so. It is a question of evidence.
Fifty men, women and teenage boys have taken their own lives in prison this year in England and Wales. This is a significant increase on recent years when reduced overcrowding and increased focus on suicide prevention was saving lives.
I was shocked to hear the Secretary of State for Justice be so complacent about the deaths of prisoners yesterday when questioned by MPs.
There is a clear correlation between people being locked up for longer and longer in stinking cells with nothing to do, hardly ever getting outside into the fresh air and a lack of purpose to their lives, and an increase in violence and suicide.
A few weeks ago the Howard League published a briefing showing that the closure and re-roling of 18 prisons and consequent transfer of that population to other jails has crammed people into already overcrowded prisons. At the same time the number of prison officers has been cut by about a third. To complete the perfect storm, the prison population has risen inexorably. There are consequences and it is disingenuous of politicians to try to shirk responsibility for their policies.
Deaths by suicide in prison became a matter of national concern in the 1990s and there were new measures put in place to support people in crisis. It was recognised that the fact of prison, the institution and its nature, was itself a contributory factor. Ministers established a board to oversee changes, bringing together experts from the voluntary sector and operational chiefs from the NHS, prison and police services. For a few years the reducing numbers of prisoners, increased budgets for education and focus on getting prisoners to work had an impact and the death rate fell.
Things changed a couple of years ago with the combination of increased numbers and budget cuts. There simply are not enough staff to get people to health care appointments, out of their cells to go to education classes, for a shower or a phone call home. Inspection report after inspection report has revealed the horror of prison life today, for staff and for inmates.
When an 18-year-old with known mental health problems and who had the red welts on his neck of a previous suicide attempt takes his own life on his second night in prison, it should be an issue of shame to the secretary of state, and indeed, to the nation.
Penal policy is political in the best sense of the word. It is about the safety of the people and how we should respond to those amongst our community who violate the law. But, it is also political in the worst sense of the word as it is a weapon of party politics. The last four years has seen both of these in chiaroscuro.
Today a report on Wormwood Scrubs prison illustrates the desperate state of prisons, but more about that later.
At the early years of the Coalitionâs term of government from 2010 to 2012, the intention was to reduce the use of prison by curtailing the power of the magistrates courts to remand to custody and abolish the indeterminate sentence for public protection.Â The second aim was for fewer people in prison and slowly the numbers reduced by around 3,000 at any one time. The third aim was to get prisoners busy with a focus on work and training.
From 2012 this trajectory was abruptly abandoned and instead the newly appointed secretary of state for justice concentrated on encouraging punishment by introducing restricted regimes in prisons and ending the pressure to reduce prison sentences and remands. Eighteen prisons were closed and staff cut by more than 30%.
I have never seen a public service deteriorate so rapidly and so profoundly.
I know my prisons. I have been to almost all the prisons in England and Wales, many of them several times, and I have spent a long time in each prison talking to staff and inmates and looking at facilities. I have visited prisons in the US, South America and across Eastern and Western Europe.
In 2011 I visited 10 prisons to see for myself the improvements being made at that time. Declining numbers and governors using their initiative resulted in prisoners being out of their cells for longer, employed on recycling schemes, manufacturing and taking education classes. It was not perfect, but it was all going in the right direction.
In the last two years prisons have gone into meltdown. Since June inspection reports on Glen Parva, Isis, Hindley, Doncaster, Preston, Ranby, Gartree, Winchester and Bedford prisons have shown a pattern of inactivity, violence, lethargy and filth. Wormwood Scrubs is one of the biggest prisons in the country and today has one of the worst reports I have ever read.
The death rate has soared with suicides of teenage boys a particular tragedy. Deaths from what are called ânatural causesâ have increased so that people are dying when they might have been saved.
A new category of death is being recorded. Drugs are so rife in prisons that people are using a cocktail of prescribed drugs and illicit drugs that are sometimes lethal.
The few staff who are left cannot be blamed for the dire state of prisons, responsibility lies in the policies that create the crisis.
The toxic mix of closing 18 prisons and redistributing the prisoners to already overcrowded jails has tipped many over the safe limit. Courts and parole boards react to political pressures so the number of people sent to prison on remand rose and the sentences got longer and the number released on parole went down whilst recalls went up. Staff cuts reduced front line prison officers by more than 30 per cent.
This means, on the landings, that people are on restricted regimes and not getting out of their dark, smelly, unventilated cells that are the size of a small cubicle and contain a toilet they have to share.
I hope that prisons become a highly political issue and that people in this country see that stinking prisons are not serving them well. Itâs not about party politics, itâs about human politics.
Last Sunday the Secretary of State for Justice wrote an article for the Telegraph attacking charities for being politically biased. It was posted and then taken down almost immediately, but I expect it to reappear, as, whilst it is more strident in tone, the article repeats accusations he has made in the past. He is not the only politician to attack charities for being critical of government policies as organisations working on development, hunger, housing, children, disability, poverty and social support have been the focus of a barrage of insults. This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of civil society in our democracy.
The current government has a Victorian vision of the role of charities. It believes that charities should provide succour to the poor and provide the safety net that the state is increasingly withdrawing from. They should do this silently and refrain from analysing or criticising the policies and practices that create the need in the first place. Should they vocalise concerns this apparently becomes political.
Over the past few months the criticism of the Howard League coming from the Secretary of State for Justice has got more shrill and more personal. I have asked to see correspondence and minutes from his office that name the charity and that name me but so far I have been refused access. I am appealing this refusal with the Information Commissioner.
Today Labour held a âsummitâ on the crisis in prisons and I was invited to attend. I decided in the end it was not appropriate as the Labour press office sent out a notice pre-empting the discussion by listing the policies the party had already decided on, many of which I think are wrong or trivial. Secondly, the event was branded as so partisan that I felt it was inappropriate for a charity to attend. I meet with Labour MPs, Conservative MPs, LibDems and Plaid, and peers from across the House and am pleased to discuss our research and ideas.
The UK has one of the best developed and most diverse third sectors of any nation state and we should be proud of this. NCVO estimates that the sector employs three quarters of a million people and has a value of ÂŁ11 billion, contributing significantly to a healthy national economy as well as underpinning a healthy society.
It is naĂŻve to think that organisations who are motivated by public and individual welfare would not want to stem the flow of misery. Catching people as they cascade out of the factory of mistaken policies, which are causing the problems that charities are having to mop up, makes no sense.
There are charities that are muzzled by virtue of their contractual arrangements with government and perhaps this is the vision for the future that is being preferred. Some of the bigger charities rely on all their income coming from government and provide services that hitherto have been undertaken by the public sector. This hobbles them from speaking out and they have become Â complicit with government policies. These organisations represent the compliant model that the government would like to see all charities conforming to.
Fortunately these charities are few. Most third sector groups guard their independence fiercely and want to use their research and expertise for the public good. This means speaking out without fear or favour, in the old clichĂŠ, it means speaking truth to power.
The Howard League is independent. It relies on funding from a wide variety of donors and we make sure that this continues to be the case so that we are not dependent on any one source. We do not accept government grants. The charity is impartial and non-aligned. We publish our research and as our core charitable objective is public education, we are happy to meet people from all political parties to share our expertise and our experience. We have members of different political parties as members, and our membership is growing rapidly.
Government ministers should be more grown up in taking criticism on the chin. When it is legitimate and well founded criticism governments should review and improve policies. Democracy is founded on learning from debate.
The Howard League will not be defamed by one party or purloined by another. We will not be bullied.
August 13, 2014
Âˇ Frances Crook Âˇ One Comment
Tags: charities, Chris Grayling, Democracy, Public Services, Third sector, voluntary sector Âˇ Posted in: Campaigns, Government policy, Howard League, Public Services
It is extraordinary that it is only 50 years ago that we last hanged people in this country. The country has moved on so much in that time and it is simply not an issue any more. I cannot remember the last time that I was asked to do a media interview about the death penalty and the last vote in Parliament was a couple of decades ago.
The Howard League was founded in 1866, the year of the first Royal Commission on capital punishment that recommended an end to public executions. The charity led the campaign for abolition for the next century. In the job I had before I joined the Howard League, leading campaigns for the British Section of Amnesty International, I was also responsible for its campaign against the death penalty, so it is an issue that I feel strongly about and have worked on for most of my professional life.
Progress can be fragile and whilst it is important to make gains in humane policies, to get them enacted and enforced, that is not enough. It is also important to embed them. That is also the role of voluntary organisations. I am proud that not only was the Howard League the key organisation arguing for abolition for the last part of the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth, but that we also led the Parliamentary lobbying to make sure that it was not reintroduced.
There were several votes in Parliament in the 1980s and early 1990s. Never was there any doubt that the majority to maintain abolition was under threat, but it was important to make sure that the numbers were overwhelming. It is interesting, as an ironical aside, to note that the only Liberal MP to vote for reintroduction was Cyril Smith.
Alongside our work with MPs we focussed on public education in this country and international campaigns. Abolition of capital punishment is enshrined in the human rights remit of the United Nations. Every single one of 47 countries in the Council of Europe has abolished the death penalty.
It is the anniversary of the state killing of two men, one hanged in Liverpool prison and one in Manchester on 13 August 1964. We must never forget and we must make sure it never, ever happens again.
You can help. The Howard League is building a movement; we have doubled our membership in two years. Members and regular supporters give our campaigns authority and financial independence. There are not many charities left that donât rely on funding from government, and we are proud to be one of the last ones standing. We will continue to campaign with independence, integrity, authority and for the issues that matter. Join us.
The long-anticipated results from the payment by results pilots in Peterborough and Doncaster prisons show that both projects have failed. Peterborough missed its target of reducing reoffending by 10 per cent, and Doncaster did just enough not to lose any money, but not enough to make any.
It is appalling, but not surprising, that Chris Grayling and the Ministry of Justice are attempting to suggest these very underwhelming results support the destruction of the probation service. Firstly, neither of the projects hit the targets the Ministry of Justice itself set, and secondly, the probation reforms bear little resemblance to these pilot projects. Transforming Rehabilitation is very different and a lot worse.
Supervision and support for those released from Peterborough prison after short sentences was funded by substantial additional money through social impact bonds â which is extra investment from the lottery and charitable trusts that could have gone to good causes. The governmentâs plans are to take money from probation to give it to private companies or consortia to manage people coming out of prison or on community sentences.
Under Transforming Rehabilitation services will need to be provided to at least 50,000 people emerging from short prison sentences but no more money will be available. In the Peterborough project intensive and specialised services were provided by experienced charitable organisations, who still failed to make any significant impact on reoffending, because they were given the impossible task of undoing the damage done by the prison.
The expansion of the scheme nationwide will simply be impossible to achieve without busting the budget.
Furthermore, involvement in the Peterborough project was voluntary. Those leaving the prison after serving short sentences were offered support, advice and help, but didnât have to take it. Contrastingly, participation in Transforming Rehabilitation will be compulsory and non-compliance will be met with punitive sanctions including further imprisonment. The Ministry of Justice itself estimates that there will be at least 13,000 additional counterproductive and expensive short term prison sentences as a result of the changes.Â No wonder they are rushing to build a Titan prison to hold all the extra prisoners.
Increasing the use of short-term prison sentences is the single worst thing you can do if you want to reduce crime. Instead of wasting money trying to undo the damage caused by a short prison sentence, the damage should just not be inflicted in the first place.
Short periods in jail do much more harm than good. Men and women sit in our cramped, violent and filthy prisons for a couple of weeks or months before very often being released into unemployment and homelessness. If the Ministry of Justice invested in robust community sentences and used them instead of short prison sentences, crime rates would plummet and billions of pounds would be saved.
The Transforming Rehabilitation fiasco must be stopped immediately; it will do real damage and cost huge amounts of money. Instead of spending time trying to twist statistics of distantly-related pilot projects to support a reckless privatisation plan, justice ministers should follow the evidence and reduce short term sentences and invest in the community.
August 7, 2014
Âˇ Frances Crook Âˇ 2 Comments
Tags: Chris Grayling, Ministry of Justice, paymen by results, Transforming Rehabilitation Âˇ Posted in: Government policy, Privatisation, Probation, Public Services, Rehabilitation
A very brave family spoke out today about their experience of giving an impact statement at the parole hearing to consider whether the killer of their son could be moved to an open prison. Geraldine and Peter McGintyâs son, Colin, was stabbed and died in 2001. They made public their anguish at making a huge effort to say how they still suffered pain through their loss only to hear the judge say that this statement would have no impact on the decision to be made by the parole board.
I spoke to journalists and did interviews in an attempt to explain how this could happen. My fear is that it will happen many more times in the future but could be even more terrible for victims of serious crime.
The McGinty family gave their testimony by video link but many families will attend the parole hearing. This means travelling, sometimes a long distance, to the prison where the perpetrator is being held. They may get a little bit of advice and support, they may not. They will be ushered into an room where three members of the parole board and various other officials will be sitting. The prisoner will be there too. This could be the first time that they have come face to face with the person who killed their child, burgled their house or attacked them. They may have attended the trial and seen him across the court in the dock, or they may have decided not to attend. So now, they are face to face but unable, indeed not permitted, to speak to him or ask him questions.
The ending of legal aid for prisoners at parole hearings when they are seeking to move to open conditions means that whilst in the past the lawyer would be in the room not the prisoner, now, it has to be the prisoner as he has no representative and he has to hear what is being said about him. This is the cruellest legal aid cut. It is one the Howard League is challenging forcefully by taking judicial review proceedings.
How can this be happening?Â Whoever thought this was kind, or helpful to victims?
The answer of course is politicians. For years successive politicians have exploited victims to get a good headline. Instead of making the system supportive and generous to victims, they have used victims only to increase the severity of punishment.Â Impact statements are only about using their misery to increase a sentence.Â These impact statements were opposed for decades by Victim Support but sadly it has reversed its stance and now without any appreciation of the distress it causes to victims, the organisation is supporting it.
I hope Victim Support will review its support for impact statements at parole hearings. I hope politicians will take care when tempted to exploit victims. We need a system of justice that seeks to heal the harm done by crime, what we have is a system that exacerbates distress.
I spent yesterday in a prison that had been identified as one of the worst in the country but in just a few months has been transformed into a much safer and busier place. The questions that need to be asked are twofold: how has this happened and how did a prison deteriorate so that teenagers were terrified to venture out of their filthy cells?
I will identify it so that readers can see the full extent of the dreadful mess the prison was in when the prison inspectors visited. Brinsford is a young offenders institution near Wolverhampton and used to hold around 570 teenagers and young adults aged 18 to 21. The inspection report is excoriating:
âThese are the worst overall findings my inspectorate has identified in a single prison during my tenure as Chief Inspector. Across all of our four tests of a healthy prison, we found outcomes to be poor.â
The prison was filthy, the windows rotting, staff resorted to using force to try and keep control, staff sick rate was through the roof, violence was rife, half the boys spent all day locked in cells, courses were cancelled, the litany of failure is industrial.
It has changed. A new governor was parachuted in to sort it out. He got the boys gardening, painting, learning and active. Many of the internal gates have been removed and the workshops opened so that the young men are learning a trade and busy in education. They go to bed at night tired, so staff donât have to implement the latest crazy missive from the Ministry to turn lights off. Use of force by staff is discouraged.
Itâs not a perfect place. I was disappointed with the food as there was no fruit and few vegetables, both essential as a healthy diet for young men.
There are several reasons for the turnaround. The obvious one is a charismatic and determined governor who took time to understand the prison and then acted with courage by dismissing recalcitrant staff and getting everyone else busy. He made difficult decisions.
Secondly, the number of young prisoners has been reduced by 130 and benchmarking hasÂ increased the number of staff. This is the bit that isnât rocket science. At a time when every other prison in the country has had its staff cut by a third, this prison has done the opposite.
When I was visiting, he refused to accept an overcrowding draft from a local prison and the bus was turned back.Â The governor pointed out he was responsible for running this prison and overcrowding was beyond his control.
The Howard League published a report on staff cuts and prison overcrowding a couple of weeks ago and since then the independent monitoring board at Nottingham has warned that the prison is likely to see riots because conditions are so dreadful. Prisons across the country are becoming dangerous places for staff and prisoners. As men spill out back into the community they put us at risk of their increased violence. Two people a week are taking their own lives in prison.
The lesson is clear. A prison that is not full, that is well managed and fully staffed can be a clean, busy and safe institution.
So who is responsible for the shambles in the system? It is a difficult question to answer as there is no clear line of accountability any more. Until the creation of the behemoth NOMS there had been a director general of prisons. One person was in charge of the operational managing of 130 or so prisons. We now have a bureaucratic nightmare with ministers interfering in the decision of whether prisoners may have books sent to them or women prisoners can wear black leggings.
The answer is that ministers are responsible. Remember this, when you read that another 18-year-old on remand has taken his own life. Ministers are responsible.
July 23, 2014
Âˇ Frances Crook Âˇ One Comment
Tags: Inspectorate of Prisons, Ministry of Justice, NOMS, suicide Âˇ Posted in: Children and young people, Inside prisons, Overcrowding, Prison officers, Prisons, suicide
The best thing about the sinister younger siblings of the ASBO, the gang injunctions, is how rarely they are used. The scope and ease of applicability of these injunctions raise serious questions about the infringement of our civil liberties: the legislation specifically states that it is not just about gangs, it is applied to âgroupsâ.
There is an important differential here, particularly for children -Â if they are in a group that âconsists of at least three peopleâ with âone or more characteristics that enable its members to be identified by others as a groupâ than that brings them within the scope of the legislation. This is clearly not the definition of a gang. Any sensible person would interpret it as how most teenagers congregate and dress in public, or indeed how pensioners congregate and dress in public, but of course the law is discriminatory in its intent.
Gang injunctions can be imposed on children as young as 14. The fact that the legislation exists at all is a fragrant breach of Article 15 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that children have the right to meet together and to join groups and organisations.
So it is of utmost concern that the Serious Crime Bill, which is being debated in parliament today, contains provisions to extend the circumstances that gang injunctions can be imposed. Although theyâve been low in use so far, the Howard Leagueâs legal team has represented a young man who was subjected to their horrors.
Sam was 20 when he contacted one of our solicitors. He had never been convicted of a gang related offence. He had been shot. The police imposed an interim gang-injunction on Sam without warning and without representation, claiming it was a âprotective measureâ. The sheer scope of the restrictions on his life were astonishing: he could not enter his home town â meaning he was effectively made homeless as he lived with his Mum there; he could not see, contact or even ring his partner, so he couldnât see his son unless the child was in the care of someone else; and he was banned from contacting the majority of his friends. During this time Sam had the constant threat that even though he had done nothing wrong, if he breached any of these requirements he could be sent to prison.
As the police can impose interim gang injunctions without the authority of the court, it was a year before it was finally decided that the interim injunction on Sam was not appropriate or lawful. This was a year of a young manâs life.
Serious crime bills should tackle serious crime. Human trafficking, organised gun crime and female genital mutilation are scourges on an international scale. They are serious crimes. The unnecessary criminalisation of children and young people has no place in this bill and no place in our society.
A couple of weeks ago we handed in a dossier to the City of London Police and Metropolitan Police that listed the failures by G4S and Serco in delivering justice services. We asked them to assist the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in its ongoing investigation and called for both companies to be barred from bidding for any public service contracts until the completion of the inquiry.
Today, as shareholders gather for G4Sâs annual general meeting, I can confirm I have had responses from both the Met and the City of London Police.
The senior investigating officer from the City of London Police very helpfully explained its predicament. The force is already investigating potential criminal activity by Serco relating to the delivery of prisoners to the courts. The SFO has teams of accountants that are qualified to look into possible fraud by both Serco and G4S. Both police and the SFO have to achieve a high level of proof in order to bring criminal charges. I was told that our dossier was primarily a catalogue of incompetence.
I am not so sure it is just incompetence. It seems to me that a dossier of 70 pages listing hundreds of instances of failures indicates more than incompetence. Could it be deliberate?
The reason people do things guides the way they do things. More than that, motivation is the moral compass.
The private companies that take on government contracts to deliver justice services are doing it to make money; their prime consideration is the pursuit of profit. The evidence points to practices aimed at maximising profits by cutting corners, paying low wages, stinting on training, employing too few staff, not sharing good practice with public agencies, buying cheap equipment.
The result has been years of poor delivery and incompetence. But more than this. I would argue that providing a poor service on the cheap because the company wants to increase its profits at the expense of the taxpayer and the service user amounts to criminality, whether or not it hits the courtsâ required threshold.
We put together the dossier as it shows a pattern of behaviour with the tip of the iceberg possibly amounting to deliberate fraud.Â This must change. We must not allow public services to sink to such dire levels in the name of profit.Â The taxpayer and the citizen deserve the best.
It appears that governments will continue to commission out public services to companies whose aim is profit, in which case, we must build in higher moral expectations. I donât know how to do this with G4S or Serco, any ideas?